One of the highlights of a recent trip was a visit to Porcupine Camp situated about 8 kilometers out of Kamanjab on the C40. It’s not uncommon for farms to specialize in certain animals, but what made this particular spot unique was the fact that their speciality was porcupines. These unusual animals are not commercially bred, but have been attracted to the area by a nightly smorgasbord of food that draws them from all directions of the farm. Their delightful hostess, Katrin Haenisch, has an obvious passion for her porcupines and she joins her guests in their wonder and awe at the numbers that come to visit her each evening.
We were fortunate enough to spend three nights camping in her lovely mopani-treed bush camp, and for a nominal initial fee we were allowed to attend the porcupine feeding every evening. Katrin has a small concrete area in front of the farmhouse which she uses as the feeding stage. Before the sun goes down she throws pellets or vegetables and porridge on this area and then waits for her hungry guests to arrive. We were extremely excited when we heard a “swish swish” of quills announcing the arrival of her first guests. Two large porcupines shuffled into the spotlight and proceeded to gobble up food as if their lives depended on it. It wasn’t long before more wandered in and joined in the fray for food that lasted for up to two hours.
Porcupines (Hystrix africaeaustralis) are the largest rodents in our region – in fact they look like enormous guinea pigs wearing quill skirts! When in danger or threatened in any way, their quills stand upright for protection. It’s a myth that they shoot quills out at their enemies – what usually happens is that the quills stick into the attacker and are released from the porcupine’s skin. These quills can cause problems because wounds then tend to fester. Lions, cheetahs, caracals and leopards prey (at their peril) on porcupines.
On our first night about nineteen porcupines came to feed. We thought it couldn’t get any better than that, but we were wrong, as on our last night at the camp no less than twenty-five of them came in. Numbers like this are astounding considering that they are solitary wild animals. It did cause some quarreling about the food, with some of them side-swiping each other to shove them out of the way. With all those quills around we wondered if they ever poked each others eyes out and, sure enough, we did see some evidence of injury with one receiving a wound to its face.
The quills are made of keratin and are different thicknesses, with some being long and thin and others fatter and sturdier. The rest of the body is covered in glossy black hair. Long white hairs form a “mowhawk-type” of hairstyle on their heads, giving them the appearance of punks or “cool dudes”. We found the babies especially sweet, looking the perfect little miniatures of their mothers. Porcupines have up to three babies after a gestation period of about three months. Females are larger, weighing up to 24 kgs as opposed to males that reach up to 19 kgs. They can live for up to twenty years.
Porcupine Camp is one of Namibia’s absolute gems and should be inundated with visitors for the sheer uniqueness of the porcupines. It should be on every visitor’s “to do” list and we cannot stress enough what a fabulous experience it is seeing so many of these amazing creatures in one spot.